Cyber Hygiene to Prevent a Cyber-Pandemic

Covid-19 pandemic has exposed two critical facts concerning the global health scenario: 1) prevention is as always better than cure and 2) behavioural aspects are extremely relevant in the context of health. The ubiquitous spread of cyber-physical systems across all facets of our life has created an exposure that is similar to the current global health crisis. As cyber infection can jump from one network to another and mutate and propagate whilst crippling the systems. Similarly, people’s risky behaviours tend to accelerate the spread of a cyber-pandemic. Hence, it is appropriate to have a conversation on good cyber hygiene for the protection of cyber-physical systems from a cyber- pandemic.

The Mask
Like the protective clothing worn on a person’s mouth, one must consider implementing antivirus/firewall systems to prevent the entry of malicious software onto their devices. The same systems which prevent the entry of malicious software can be also used to prevent the spread of malicious software from the device. The encryption of devices also leads to the protection of systems. Protection of removable media such as pen-drive, hard-disk etc. should also be done to prevent the spread of the cyber infection. One can also consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) software to hide and prevent the misuse of digital footprints across social media and other websites.

The Sanitizer
Like the real world, any activity in the digital world exposes you to potential cyber infections hence running an antivirus scan regularly leads to the “sanitization” of all devices including the non-traditional ones such as smartwatches. The “sanitization” also requires regular patch updates of the operating systems and other software to ensure that potential vulnerabilities are plugged appropriately.

Social Distancing and Quarantining
Infected devices when the infection is detected should be quarantined immediately; in any connections to other devices and/or the internet should be immediately severed and appropriate treatment mechanism must be employed. The social distancing in a cyber-physical environment would entail aspects such as maintaining caution while connecting devices, establishing a secure connection that is resilient against disruptions etc.

Vaccination and Immunity Boosting
Vaccination for the cyber systems is implementing recommended fixes that resolve the vulnerabilities. Like in the real world vaccination adequate testing of the vaccine has to be conducted and the vaccination should be attempted by authorised parties alone. Immunity boosting deals with both the system and the user. The system needs to have a regular upgrade of hardware, software and network services to ensure that systems remain secure. The immunity of the user deals with keeping oneself updated regarding the evolving cyber threat environment and generally following risk-averse behaviours online.

Following cyber hygiene highlighted above leads to a better position in handling the cyber pandemic. As a community of cyber-physical systems, you are only as strong as your weakest link thus, following cyber hygiene is for everyone.

Author : Prof Balakrishnan Unny R

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